Monday, December 21, 2009


The men in the facility knew which trees to climb and what rocks to step on, as the old saying went. They were city detainees and preserved the system (most of them) by attaining the required state of institutionalization before reaching the legal age of adulthood. How many among them had not spent their formative years being conditioned in some similar structure? It ensured that their patterns would be repetitive. She knew this about them. And they knew this about her: The woman was a titan that was not to be toyed with. It was her job. She lorded over her area like Nzinga directing regiments of troops, and split easy paths between groups of bodies attempting to converge during her patrol of the room. This was a woman of the twenty-first century; a black woman who lived in a time of consequence falling from the very thing the Queen of the Ndongo struggled against; a woman whose blood was tied to those whom she supervised. The men in her custody were shackled in a new and inventive way and she was one of their many paid overseers. It was her job.

She had seen all that there was to see with twenty years of roving eyes; poking into the corners that the overhead cameras could not catch; peering under garments for weapons that might have to be frisked out; and reading the language that hung in the atmosphere, fishing for a forewarning. She sat at a large desk taking the names and commitment numbers of the inmates as they entered her vicinity, taking canes and walking sticks to store at the door, and taking pause to instruct one of the younger ones to pull his pants up. She pulled leather gloves over her hands and covered the elaborate designs on her nails before moving across the floors on a survey. She kept a heavy radio in her right hand for the purposes of calling in assistance or knocking an aggressor back a few feet. She had enough experience to not let the greater implications of her role be of any distraction from her duties. This was the job. She would weigh and evaluate such points with the rest of her own troubles later; side by side with her coworkers, with her ponytail unleashed and her diamond rings glistening and the mounted speakers rattling the glasses holding the shots of high-priced Tequila.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


In the middle of the melee, with a glass in hand, the photograph captures her looking way off somewhere. There is no expression of happiness on her face, not even the quiet contentment at just being present. At the holiday gathering, confusion is well installed, forcing bodies up and moving them around the house, but breaking no bones this time like the great song proclaims; just hands reaching out to lift bottles, pass plates, bring sweets to lips, wipe gravy from the babies’ faces, hold chests to control the volume of a cackle and to cut more pieces of meat from the platter. Maybe the camera only just missed her smile by moments when her visage would have been more vigorous and engaging and not so quick to belie…something.

Those who know can tell the story. Secrets are always held by two or three in a room. Glances might meet in the middle of a sentence while the rest of the crowd rambles on in ignorance. Lucky for them! What might his name have been? How would his eyes have looked? What would any of it had mattered when he started to totter across the room, master the way a mouth forms a word and sprout like these that were here? There was no sentencing for them, no final order of doom, no pressing out like wet fingers on the tip of a lit match and the world still rotated in its usual way. Woe begotten was the look, so ready to return to the bottom of the house, to the room in the back, to the other side of the wooden door, to the inside of the covers where tears could flow unabashed.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

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